Virginia HABS Catalog Notes

W. Brown Morton III
May 12, 2005

The HABS Virginia Catalog was published in 1976 for the Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, Department of the Interior by the University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

It was compiled jointly by The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission (VHLC) [presently the Virginia Department of Historic Resources] and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

The catalog text was many years in the making.

From 1967 to 1970 Brown Morton served as Principal Architect for the Historic American Buildings Survey, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP). James C. Massey served at that time as Chief of HABS. Immediately prior to the creation of OAHP in 1967, James Massy and HABS operated out of the NPS regional office in Philadelphia.

As noted in page ix of the Introduction to the Virginia Catalog, "Each building or site listed in the catalog has been visited to ascertain its present condition. . . . W. Brown Morton, architect, HABS, visited properties in the northern counties and the Northern Neck. Mr. Morton also served as coordinator for the efforts of both the Landmarks Commission and HABS."

In the late-1950s, Brown Morton, while a student at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, had complied the Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory (HABSI) forms for the Northern Neck of Virginia and for portions of Loudoun County including Waterford. The Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory was introduced in 1953 as a cooperative project between the National Park Service, the American Institute of Architects, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In Virginia, the program was strongly supported by the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Important funding for the Virginia HABSI program was provided at that time by Paul Mellon's Old Virginia Foundation.

Brown Morton moved from HABS staff to the Historic Sites Survey of OAHP in 1970, prior to the completion of the Virginia Catalog final text.

Early in the discussions between the VHLC staff in Richmond and the HABS staff in Washington, D.C. about the format for individual catalog entries, it became clear that the traditional grouping of Virginia sites alphabetically by "city" or "county" was not acceptable to the Chief of HABS. Thus, the catalog listed all entries alphabetically by "city" and by "vicinity". "Vicinity" was identified by the nearest U.S. Post Office. Thus, Gunston Hall was listed under Lorton vicinity rather than under Fairfax County. Similarly, the HABS Inventory forms were listed by "city" and "vicinity" rather than by "city" or "county." The justification for this was that this would bring the Virginia Catalog into conformity with the other HABS state catalogs. This decision made the Virginia Catalog awkward to use as a practical field guide to Virginia's historic resources since virtually all other Virginia inventories were organized by city and county. People working in Virginia think in terms of "county" not "vicinity."

Nevertheless, the Virginia Catalog significantly expanded the information available in the HABS Catalog of 1941 and the HABS Supplement of 1959. The Virginia Catalog also published for the first time the extensive Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory Forms (HABSI). These forms, although, by definition, an inventory list and not a fully developed HABS record, identified, by means of a short survey form, a small black and white photograph, and sometimes a sketch plan, many historic buildings that would have otherwise gone unrecorded altogether.

Send Comments/Questions To: Gary Stanton